Based on eyewitness accounts, Saving the Titanic tells the untold story of the men below deck who struggled to keep the Titanic afloat after it’s fateful collision with an iceberg in April 1912. The film follows the firemen, electricians and engineers below deck and their fight to hold back the Atlantic after the hull of the ship is breached.
We think we are completely familiar with the story of the sinking of the Titanic, we know that this was the biggest ship ever built and it’s voyage from Southampton to New York was to usher in a new age of the steam liner, before disaster struck in the form of an iceberg, but there is so much of the story that we did not know. James Cameron’s Titanic follows the story of star crossed lovers Jack and Rose as they work their way through the passenger liner, but there were hundreds of men working below deck whose story has yet been untold.
The film is a dramatised version of eyewitness accounts from the survivors of the Titanic, and shows how the crew struggled to hold back the tide and, if not stop the Titanic from sinking, then keep her afloat for as long as possible. The story is told through the eyes of the engineers and crewmen below deck, and steers clear of the melodramatic, emotional drama that we have accepted into our culture thanks to Mr. Cameron.
Each character has their reason for being on the ship, whether they are the top of their field like Joseph Bell (David Wilmot) or running away from their past like Barratt (Ciarán McMenamin), and each struggle with the decision to stay at their post and provide electricity to allow people to escape the ship or try and save themselves. There is a myth surrounding the crew of the Titanic; that they stayed at their posts even as the ship went down, but Saving the Titanic shows these working class men in a real and relatable light. These were not people who blindly followed orders, they were real people with their own grievances, friendships and morals, and their decision to stay was ultimately theirs alone.
The film contains great performances from actors who are quickly rising through the ranks; David Wilmot, Hugh O’Conor and Ciarán McMenamin, but this is not the story of the individual, it is the tale of the ensemble. To that end, none of the actors dominate but the audience is drawn to Barratt as he keeps to himself and works hard, his final outburst to Joseph Bell creates the emotional centre that the film needs, and the audience finds themselves rooting for these characters to survive.
Saving the Titanic mixes the technical and the personal to create a fascinating story full of information that has been overlooked to date. As soon as the ship begins to sink in earnest, the electricity finally fails and the story is over, the audience does not see the spectacular sinking scenes that were brought to us by James Cameron, and neither do we get the tour of the beautiful ship that we might expect. In fact, we do not see the ship sinking, and while this may jar the audience at the time, it is the right choice for the story; there was nothing more that could be done to save the Titanic, and the struggle for survival is one we are all too familiar with. The film strikes the right balance between documentary and drama and is incredibly cinematic; it is a shame that it may never be seen on the big screen again.